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Jack Simpson - Lessons from the past can guide us in troubled times

Yes, we are still engaged in a struggle against terrorism, and we have lost our favorable reputation in the world. However, our immediate concern is the economy and the financial problems that face nearly every person. We are not alone. Nations around the world are also feeling less secure because of their economic woes.

Senior citizens who lived during the Great Depression know what a recession means. Times were rough and people back in the 1920s and 1930s had worked hard, lived moderately and persevered in spite of the seemingly overwhelming circumstances brought on by financial crises. Families stuck together and helped one another. They had to.

My grandfather fought to save his home and businesses. He lost. My grandmother tended to household chores and planted a garden. The grandchildren weeded the crop and helped harvest the vegetables. Aunts and uncles without jobs went into the forest hunting game and fishing for the family table. Some stood in food lines to supplement the diet. Others walked the streets knocking on doors looking for any kind of available work. Housepainting and grass cutting became popular.

My grandmother knew how to stretch a dollar. She and the children in the family dug dandelion from the lawn which she turned into a tasty green salad. Ground venison or beef made into a thick gravy and put over homegrown potatoes made a filling, tasty dinner. Homemade bread baked in a coal stove oven and spread with homemade preserves was something to almost kill for.

The mushrooms put into the gravy were picked in the forest under my grandmother's supervision. She knew which ones were safe to eat and which ones could make you as sick as a dog.

Not only did my grandmother provide economical meals, she used her sewing machine to make clothes or alter hand-me-downs. Few people had jobs yet they were willing to work at anything to survive. People struggled and fought to stay out of debt. No one I knew made purchases they could not pay for. My grandfather told us if we didn't have the money, then don't make the purchase.

Being unemployed, the family lacked purchasing power, which brought a feeling of helplessness and emotional stress. It was a gift from Heaven when government agencies offered assistance. Unemployed people got jobs in the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Individuals on relief rolls were hired to do construction projects. Some of my uncles helped build a new street in front of our house. Others worked in the CCCs, Civilian Conservation Corps. They planted trees, did erosion control, fought forest fires, and corrected draining problems. Others improved infrastructure.

The money earned by doing this work provided needed food and shelter and gave the unemployed a measure of self-respect. Government jobs programs gave people in despair hope for a better future. Many found good reason to offer thanks to President Franklin Roosevelt for his leadership and assistance to working men and women.

We see some similarities with our current recession. Perhaps president-elect Barack Obama will follow President Roosevelt's stimulus package.

While awaiting for some relief, each of us can help escape the fate of our grandparents by living more within our means, by not increasing credit bills, curtailing our spending and by practicing discipline.

We are in a financial crisis, but history has shown us that market crashes need not be fatal. Eventually our markets will work again. Grandparents survived and so will we.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.